The purpose of Global Risk Progress is to act as a repository for the documented work of the Global Risk Policy Group. The group investigates, analyses and provides assessments on:
- the current level of threat from global catastrophic risks
- the nature of current actions of governments and other relevant entities worldwide for building the capacity to mitigate these risks at the earliest time, and
- the current extent of implementation of such actions, including challenges and opportunities arising.
The assessments are generally sought to be published in the peer-reviewed literature. Global Risk Progress acts as a repository for these documents as well as for progress reports on their preparation.
What is a global risk?
A global risk – also called a global catastrophic risk or an existential risk – is defined as any risk which can destroy civilisation, or worse – that is, destroy life on Earth or the Earth itself. A well-prepared planet Earth would have the capacity, if one or more of the risks came about, to prevent the consequences of the risks occurring.
This capacity consists of both infrastructure and capability. Together these would enable either the prevention of the risk from appearing, or, if a risk were to arise, the prevention of the consequences.
Our method of analysis
Our analytical approach is that of standard evidence-based strategic planning and implementation. For risks, this method in a nutshell (see Documents page for a fuller account of the method and its results in a specific risk field) is to:
- – seek a full list of risks
– quantify them in terms of the scale of their impact and the time when they are expected to eventuate
– rank them in terms of scale and time expected
- – for the largest risk, seek potentially suitable actions to prevent the risk
– quantify the actions in terms of cost
– select most cost-effective action
- – repeat this process for all risks
- – assemble the results into a plan consisting of the risks ranked in order of importance, the selected response actions, and timings for implementation
- – submit the plan to seek (i) approval to proceed and (ii) allocation of budget. Each of these stages has a number of steps
- – monitor progress through the steps of the approval process
- – if successful in obtaining approval and budget, proceed to implement the plan
- – monitor implementation of the plan, including for conformity to specification and timeliness
- – provide feedback to those implementing the plan, and report more generally on the results from the monitoring process
Contributors to Global Risk Progress have extensive and recognised professional backgrounds in this field, including initial policy analysis and development, the evidence-based selection of initiatives, the implementation of large-scale initiatives, and the subsequent monitoring of their performance.Contributors’ track records involve both publication in the peer-reviewed literature and recognised experience in senior public sector roles.
Following are some points about how we apply the above method to global risks.
We review how currently accepted global risks are characterised, and provide selected commentary.
In the domain of solutions, our work has two components.
The first is depicting the current status of each solution. This consists of tracking the progress of each solution, and identifying apparent drivers of, and barriers to, progress.
To do this, for each risk category, we first conduct a worldwide search to identify the most authoritative plan for building the required mitigation capacity in the earliest time-frame.
Determining authoritativeness of sources
In line with the concept of evidence-based policy, we seek action plans to combat global risks based on information (i) derived from the scientific method (ii) as it is used in risk management, as follows (Hansson, S, “Risk”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/risk/>:
Scientific knowledge begins with data that originate in experiments and other observations. Through a process of critical assessment, these data give rise to the scientific corpus. Roughly speaking, the corpus consists of those statements that could, for the time being, legitimately be made without reservation in a (sufficiently detailed) textbook.
The most obvious way to use scientific information for policy-making is to employ information from the corpus. For many purposes, this is the only sensible thing to do. However, in risk management decisions exclusive reliance on the corpus may have unwanted consequences.
In this circumstance, Hansson recommends that the best available non-corpus sources be used.
In seeking these sources, Global Risk Progress looks first for peer-reviewed articles. Within these, the order of preference is large multi-author review articles, then single author review articles, and then single author non-review articles. For non-peer reviewed material, in the modern world, the internet is by far the major source. Our criterion in this case is to seek long-established high reputation internet sites.
Here we assess whether or not the plan is on track – either in the approval process, or, if the plan has been approved, in its implementation. In each case we are looking to identify any bottlenecks. If bottlenecks are found, we analyse and report on them. As well, we explore and present policy options for their removal.
At this stage, for selected policy options, we make representations to relevant decision-makers. We also encourage readers to consider making their own representations. We then provide updates on the responses from decision-makers as responses become available.
A status report of this type is provided for each of the priority risks. We rate the solution to each risk in terms of its appropriateness of scale, and the rate and timeliness of progress.
Our media model
Global Risk Progress carries out investigations and publishes these. This section outlines our media or publishing model.
Pick up any newspaper or news magazine and its material is divided into categories. A standard newspaper (at least in its front few pages) presents stories in terms of “importance” – the nearer the front page and the larger the headline, the more important. The definition of importance is often not made explicit but seems to be made up of the concepts of “seriousness” and “scale of impact”. Alternatively news magazines often organise sections in departments by type of experience – the economy, society, the arts – and/or by geographical region.
The way we organise our material is as follows.
First, our definition of importance is “what is first and foremost”. For the planet as a whole we believe that this is keeping civilisation, and life on Earth itself, a going concern. In turn that means, as we have said, successfully preventing global risks from coming about. So, we deal only with global risks.
Secondly, we present these global risks in order of importance. For a set of risks in general, there are two dimensions to importance – the potential scale of impact, and urgency (relating to when the next occurrence is expected). For global risks, scale is irrelevant – the occurrence of even the smallest is insufferable. Therefore, our criterion for ordering risks is simply that of urgency.
The third element of our model is that we provide constant monitoring of these risks. In contrast to the changing emphasis given to topics in a standard newspaper, the page of Global Risk Progress on climate change, for example, will always be here, in the same place, and will always contain the most current relevant information which we can obtain.
What do we mean by relevant information? This is the fourth and final element of our media model. Firstly Global Risk Progress is not an information service that tries to present everything about climate change and the other risks. By contrast we report only on certain specifics. These are what we have outlined above – tracking the progress of solutions, identifying barriers and bottlenecks, and highlighting policy options for their removal. Secondly, it should be noted that some of the source data concerning these specifics may be updated only once a year. In that case, the analysis we publish based on that data will continue to be the one readers see, until the next data release occurs. The fact that the data may be “old” in terms of the 24/7 news cycle is not relevant to this model.
Can information of this sort foster the risks being addressed in a more timely fashion than would otherwise be the case?
There are encouraging precedents. Comprehensive information comes from a recent peer-reviewed study entitled “How firms respond to being rated” (Chatterji and Toffel, 2010)
Firstly, as far as the number of rating services goes, the authors state that:
“Companies are subjected to an increasing number of (published) ratings and rankings, from ‘Best Places to Work’… to assessments of environmental and social responsibility… In fact, a recent survey counted more than 183 public lists across 38 countries of companies rated or ranked on the basis of their reputation for corporate citizenship, employee relations, leadership, innovation, and other characteristics…”
Writing specifically about public-interest group involvement, the authors state:
“…examples can be found of non-governmental entities already communicating data to the public with little involvement by government. Consider that the data solicited annually by the EPA from tens of thousands of facilities on the use and emissions of more than 600 toxic chemicals languishes on two fairly obscure EPA Websites (www.epa.gov/tri and www.epa.gov/enviro). To make these data more visible and useful, Environmental Defense and The Right-to-Know
Network each created user-friendly Web portals (www.scorecard.org and http://www.rtknet.org, respectively)…”
The study examined how responses to a wide range of ratings were reﬂected in changes in performance in hundreds of companies across a variety of industries. It found:
“…improvements in organizational performance to be associated with ratings issued by an independent rating agency. Although this study is, to our knowledge, the ﬁrst to identify this effect with independent, non-governmental rating agencies, our results are consistent with the ﬁndings of prior research that examined the effects of government information disclosure programs on ﬁrm behaviour…
A concluding note
The highest priority global risks we cover are climate change and peak fossil fuel, and these are therefore our main current focus.
However by definition the other global risks – such as asteroid or comet strike or certain high-energy scientific experiments – also require effective attention.
To us, the need for this approach is most pointedly given expression as follows.
Consider the following. In the future, humankind has just prevailed over the global risk of peak fossil fuel. And just at that moment, we learn that there is a comet large enough to destroy civilisation on track for collision with Earth. Imagine also that because of such an exclusive focus on peak fossil fuel we have not adequately developed – and no longer have the time to develop – the technical equipment and the rehearsed skill base to deflect the comet.